Germany: Tried and trusted but very complicated

August 22, 2003


Post-qualification entry into universities in Germany has been the norm since the 1950s and, although the German educational system is not flawless, the process has proved successful with an average of 37.5 per cent of high-school pupils attending university, writes Clare Chapman.

Sabine Baun, spokeswoman for the education ministry in Berlin, said that educational facilities in Germany were of a high standard, but she said that theirs was one of the most complicated systems in Europe. She said that while the application to universities for students with their Abitur - the equivalent of A levels - was simple, the system excluded students from other schools, such as vocational colleges, from entering universities and often led to overcrowded courses.

Ms Baun said: "Applying to universities begins after final-year pupils have received their exam results to ensure students spend their final year working towards their exams and not poring over university brochures instead of their textbooks."

Once results are posted the application process begins. Anyone who passed their Abitur, no matter what the grade, can apply to almost any course in the country. The exceptions are essentially for courses such as medicine or law, where some institutions require either high grades or an extra examination.

"If a student wishes, they can apply to 100 different universities, but most stick to half a dozen," Ms Baun said.

Students are generally accepted at each institute or faculty they apply to and then they have three to four months before the start of term to choose which one offers the best course for them. There is no system of written acceptance of a course on behalf of a student. They simply turn up at their preferred university to enrol during matriculation week. This is where the problems can start.

Ms Baun said: "Most students opt to study in the big cities, especially those in the former western states, which leads either to overcrowding or, in the less popular ones, to a lack of students."

The education ministry is in talks with the 16 German states to tackle these issues with the aim of achieving more conformity within the system.

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